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Home Staging: The Smart Way To Sell Your Home

Originally Posted: March 11, 2009

Cindy Lee Bergersen

  |   3 Comments · Print Article

Before you have your home appraised, stage it first. Your appraiser will more likely view your home as better quality than would have been the case if seen before you spiffed it up. Staging and photos by BF Designs

Southampton - "It's the economy, stupid." Several years ago, that widely used phrase in American politics, made an indelible imprint on our cultural consciousness - now, unfortunately, it's truer than ever.

You might think that selling a home in today's market is about as close as you can get to a stacked deck against you. Is there any reason to think your house can be sold in this market except as a fire sale?

This large space shown here is so empty and bare in this "before" shot. Above is the
same room "after" a bit of home staging magic.

Aaron Curti of Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate (70 Jobs Lane, Southampton, 516-903-8406) says rumors of the death of the Hamptons real estate market have been greatly exaggerated. Curti says, "Certainly, it's not like it was, but people still want homes in the area and everyone wants a good deal." When asked if under the present market conditions it would be fair to say it's a "Buyers Market," he replied," Can't really say that definitively - though the market is undeniably in transition."

Still, undeniably, it's a very competitive market. You need all the edge you can muster. You can't just sell a house. You need to market it to its best advantage. This is where Home Staging comes into play.

Home Staging is simply the smart way to go about selling your home. Though there will be some time, money and work involved whether you do it yourself or hire a professional, you have nothing to lose but time and money the longer your house remains on the market. It's in your best interest to take advantage of all the marketing possibilities available.

As far as your prospective buyer is concerned, that first viewing won't be about "getting to know you" but rather, those first impressions are everything and you only have one shot. It has to be love at first sight, or else.

The same effect is true when you have your home appraised. Stage it first, and your appraiser will more likely view your home as better quality than would have been the case if seen before you spiffed it up.

Check Out The Competition
Look online for other houses being sold in your neighborhood at a comparable price and compare them with yours. What kind of condition are these houses in? How are they being presented? What are the standard features of the houses in your price range? How does yours compare? Let's say you see a house that has the kind of features that are usual and customary for the location and price range. All the repairs have been made, the old or worn components replaced, and it's presented in an eye-catching manner. Guess which house is more likely to sell first at a higher price?

Now look at houses that are selling at the next price point up. What do those houses have that yours doesn't? Would it be cost effective to consider these improvements? If you were to write a sales ad for your home, what would you say? Naturally, you would write in glowing terms about the best features, and downplay the not-so-great aspects.

On a day-to-day basis, we tend not to notice the obvious details about where and how we live. A reliable countermeasure is to take pictures of your rooms, your backyard and the front of the house, then take a close look. What pops out? What's an eyesore? Have you done everything to play up the best features, and disguise the worst? Make a list and assess how much work you want to do yourself to make improvements and how much you want to farm out? How much will repairs and upgrades cost? Answer these questions and you can determine an appropriate budget and a timeline for completion.

You can work with no budget or any budget, but the bottom line is to do as little as possible to get the best results. Weigh costs against benefits. Repair whatever is broken, upgrade what is old or worn, but the resale value of major renovations such as putting in a swimming pool, is questionable.

High ceilings and large windows offer plenty of light but the lack of furniture is hardly inviting to a potential buyer. Furniture with simple lines and a bit of art in the same room is welcoming.

Down To Business
Your first step is to re-orient your mind-set from selling 'Your Home,' to creating an environment where the prospective buyer can see that your house is unquestionably 'Their New Home.'

You may not have the budget to stage an entire house, so address the most important rooms and views. How does your house look from the outside? Is the entryway/foyer inviting? Kitchens and bathrooms are very important to everyone. What do yours look like? The living room and master bedroom are key rooms as well.

You want to present your home as "good to go." No buyer wants to be faced with necessary repairs and upgrades that have to be done the minute after they move in. Whatever needs repair, do it now. If the carpet is worn and stained, put in a new one. If the rooms need painting, do so. Since kitchens and bathrooms are on the top of the list of most important rooms, it's worth it to replace countertops and/or the floors if they are well past their prime.

Don't think in terms of leaving the purchase of a new water heater to the next owner. You'll be asked to reduce the selling price significantly to accommodate their purchase. In truth, it will be cheaper for you replace it yourself rather than give a price reduction.

Remember that your prospective buyer won't see how great your house will look once that ugly old wallpaper is removed. They will only remember the ugly old wallpaper, and be inclined to move-on to the next prospect.

One of the most difficult aspects of staging a house for sale is putting away everything that says 'You.' You are selling your space, not your good taste. Think of the experience of staying the night in a fine hotel. The rooms are beautiful, comfortable, but impersonal. Put away the family photos, the kid's drawings, bowling trophies, toys, exercise equipment, vacation souvenirs, etc. If the present décor is theme oriented, take out all the theme references possible. You might feel you are now living in a model home, but take heart. It's only temporary and there is a valuable reward at the end!

All empty rooms look bigger than furnished ones. Size matters. This means you should take out about one-third of your belongings, including the furniture. Seriously - leave just enough to be comfortable, but not enough to say "planted for the long haul." In a sense, you want to give people the impression that you are packing up, ready to go and ready for them to move in. This applies to closets too. Take out half of what's in the closets and clear the floor so buyers can see how big the closets are.

Clear all surfaces and counters. In the kitchen, put away the small appliances and any bric-a-brac. In the bathrooms, put away everything personal except perhaps a small plant for decoration. Coffee tables tend to be catch-alls. Be rigorous and disciplined. Leave only a few carefully chosen accessories anywhere.

One man's beloved collection is another man's clutter. Don't take it personally. Just pack it up. That goes for the extra books, plants, and any other "lots" of accessories. Get everything extraneous off the floor in every area. This means stacks of old newspapers and the dog food bag too.

Room Service
Clean beyond "spring cleaning" kind of clean. Shampoo the carpets. Wipe off the ceiling fan blades as well as the kitchen exhaust hood and vents. Take out the fireplace ashes and remove any soot. Don't forget to wash the windows. Every surface should get the once over.

The way your house smells is critical too. Don't cook fish or smoke inside the house while it's on the market. Mold, and pet smells are big turn-offs because the buyer worries that the house will always smell like that. Remove the odors at their source. Don't just disguise them.

This room has everything - a large fireplace, generous built-ins, but without furniture it's just lacking. The same room as above with a rug to anchor the space and small touches to showcase the shelves really make the space pop.

And Now To Set The Stage
You've cleaned, cleared and taken out the trash. The next step is to make your home anonymously attractive. The principals of good home design used for decorating will be the same principals you will use to stage your rooms. Make use of any focal point by organizing the furniture to showcase it. Arrange the furniture to suit the intended room function. For example, if the living room is where you entertain, then you'll want a conversation area. You've already taken out a lot of furniture. Use the newly opened space to place a room setting on the diagonal where possible. It's a lot more interesting.

Freshen up the rooms with paint. Use neutral colors like pale gray, beige, wheat, khaki, sage or cream. No loud, bold colors - ever. Use well placed accessories like pillows, throws, area rugs, or a piece of art or two, for pizzazz and color punch.

If the carpeting needs to be replaced, choose a neutral here too. "Real Estate Beige" might actually be a professional term.

When showing to buyers, open the curtains. You want a light and inviting appearance. Nice lighting says, "welcome." Switch on a few light sources to brighten and warm the rooms. Turn on soft easy listening music in the background and turn the television off. Your pets should be somewhere else. Their areas must be clean and odorless.

The Great Outdoors
More than 70 percent of all apartment/home searches begin on the Internet. That means your first "sell" is the appearance of your home from the street. If you stand in front of your house, is your eye drawn to your attractive front door? If not, that's your end game.

It's the same drill outside as inside. Fix what's broken. Remove any extra furniture, and take out all the trash. This means those old paint cans, dead plants and tired tools have to go. Your front door should be the star. Trim excess foliage and keep exterior accessories to a minimum. Make sure driveway sidewalks and pathways are cleared.

A fresh coat of paint could do wonders for appearances sake outside as well. Choose a neutral color and pick a trim color that coordinates. Paint all doors the same color for consistency sake.

Should You Hire A Professional?
What if you don't have time to do the work yourself? What if you don't feel you have an eye for design, or that it will be too difficult for you to assess your home from an impersonal standpoint? What if the house in question is vacant? Statistics prove that a staged home sells faster and for more money than an unstaged home. Getting the advice of a professional stager may prove to be one of your smartest investments ever.

A professional home stager has designer vision, and can envision an improvement that could work magic with little effort, time or money. A professional also has access to furniture and accessories for rent to stage an empty house if that's your case. This will get you a faster sale at a higher price.

Barbara Feldman of BF Designs, Inc. (East Hampton, 631-329-6722) has been in the business for many years, and was in fact the first home stager in the Hamptons area. Feldman is now also working as a real estate agent with Town & Country Real Estate and stages her listings for free. She says, "Many sellers balk at the cost of readying a home for sale, but in reality, the cost is tiny compared to the huge return." In other words, spend a little to get a lot. Even if your budget isn't large enough for full service staging, a consultation will give you the kind of practical advice you need for details that you might otherwise overlook.

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Guest (Paula Hathaway, Broker Associate, Certified Home Stager) from Southampton says::
Very good and in depth article. I agree completely with Donna, though, about empty spaces--without furniture as a frame of reference a buyer cannot see the spaciousness of a room. Also the vacant house is notorious to sit on the market longer than a furnished one--why? For the very reason that furniture helps to define the space, no furniture makes a room seem cold and empty....."empty" is also an emotional response, one that is engendered by a vacant house. I also agree with Donna about the number of well qualified home stagers here in the hamptons---there are good number of us!
Mar 21, 2009 11:19 am

Guest (Allegra Dioguardi Styled and Sold Home Staging) from Sag Harbor, NY says::
I'm thrilled to see Staging getting some press out here! It's about time. Every stager has their own unique approach and it's good that there is some lively competition among stagers out here. I tend to agree with Donna, furniture shows function and can make a space feel larger but when a space is overwhelming, furniture can also bring scale to a room and make it feel cozy and less cavernous. That's the beauty of merchandising to sell. A good designer can utilize furniture, window treatments, color etc. to enhance positive features and minimize negative features. Each space is unique and requires a unique approach.
Mar 21, 2009 9:25 am

Guest (Donna Dazzo - Designed to Appeal) from East Hampton, NY says::
Cindy, great article. Covers a lot of helpful information to homeowners. I do beg to differ, however, with your comment that "All empty rooms look bigger than furnished." Actually, that's not true. Yes I agree that a room cluttered with too much furniture can look smaller, however an empty room actually appears smaller than it really is. Without furniture there is no frame of reference for a buyer to determine if their couch or bed or whatever will fit in the room. I myself have made that mistake where I will walk into a bedroom and say I don't think a King size bed will fit in here and then lo and behold, once I pull out my measuring tape, it will! Another thing I'd like to point out is that there are a number of stagers for buyers to choose from listed right here on the hamptons.com website (Designed to Appeal among them)under the Real Estate section of the Directory.
Mar 20, 2009 12:00 am


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